Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another point of view

I'm currently reading Rhett Butler's People the new "companion piece" to Gone With the Wind (for an interview with the author read Melissa Whitworth's piece in the Telegraph). Actually it's not as bad as some of the reviews have made out, as long as you don't think too much about GWTW as neither Scarlett or Rhett feel like their Mitchell counterparts. It certainly does a very good job in clearing up the uncomfortable parts of the original for a 21st century reader; there's condemnation of the Klan, Rhett's supposed racial murder is explained's a version that is certainly much easier to defend.
But Scarlett appears as a shadowy selfish figure; so far (three quarters in) I'm still not sure what McCaig's Rhett sees in her. Certainly we get a lot more of his inner pain but I'm not sure why he bothers with her. You have to remember Scarlett's attraction from Mitchell's book to be convinced.
Also the selling point of GWTW for me was the transgressive nature of Scarlett - a woman who refused to conform to the boundaries of southern womanhood (while of course being hypocritical about convention). This struggle - and her blindness over Ashley and Rhett is what made GWTW the bestseller it was. RBP loses this whole struggle with Scarlett as a small side character. This is not to say the book isn't enjoyable - it is - it's jsut not the sort that sticks in your mind.
What is really interesting is why it was written like this. The whole point of RBP as Donald McCaig tells it is not to do a straightforward sequel but to tell the same story from another angle - an idea I love
But it also made me think, what makes this approach work and what doesn't? The Wide Sargasso Sea is now seen as a classic in its own right. Why do I think RBP won't work the same?First if you are going to tell a story from another character's viewpoint I think you have to choose carefully. WSS works I think because the first Mrs Rochester is a) a vital part of Jane Eyre but not a character we know well b) has a crucial if tangential part in the plot c) has meaning beyond her character - the whole concept of the Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar) which has taken on the idea of Victorian ideas surrounding womanhood
Why doesn't Rhett work the same? Well he plays too big a role to start off with; there is lots we don't know about his past, but the interest for the reader is his relationship with Scarlett, a relationship that appears shadowy in this book. So far - although an interesting retelling of the civil war I don't feel hugely different about Mitchell's Atlanta, Scarlett or Rhett so far. There hasn't been a dramatic change in view.
The next point seems rather contradictory but I think it does tie together; in a way McCaig as Whitworth says is rewriting Rhett for a 21st century audience - as the New York Times review makes clear - the recasting of Rhett as Everyman. But do we really want Rhett as Everyman? Does that diminish him?
So my thoughts are: you need a smaller character but one on whom the plot hinges in some way; a character who represents an idea bigger than themselves; a character that in some way we have no firm opinion on or a very crude one word opinion of.
It made me wonder which other classics could actually work if rewritten with minor characters pushed to the forefront. Wuthering Heights is already told by multiple narrators. Rebecca has already performed the trick in a way by being written by the second wife. What others I wonder?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Regrets? I've had a few....

As I mentioned in my lecture one of the consequences of citizen journalism, blogging et al is that for journalists, errors that might have passed by unnoticed in earlier years are frequently seized on. As Leonard Doyle of the Independent said broadsheets can't rely on one stringer in a far off place when often people will have been there on holiday....and will know just as much about the place as a desk bound editor. Reading Adrian Monck's blog he mentions a website I hadn't come across before compiling errors made by journalists called Regret the Error which brings together a list of some of the errors made. These are the ones that the blog's author Craig Silverman chooses as his favourites:
Here's the correction, from the Dallas Morning News of October 2004:"An Oct. 19 article on songwriter John Bucchino incorrectly stated that he doesn't read. The sentence should have said he doesn't read music."The same paper did a similar thing in 2005:"Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite."

They remind me of one of my favourite fictional depictions of problems correcting errors in newspapers - as in Adrian Mole, when his mother doesn't get her Giro and abandons him at the (then) DHSS office. After a huge number of errors such as age, relationship etc fail to be corrected Mrs Mole does at least get one thing corrected. The newspaper reports
"Mrs Mole did not say 'Adrian means more to me than life itself'"

Monday, November 26, 2007

The mental scars....

a piece about soldiers' mental health coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

From bonnets to boutiques

Here's the piece I wrote for the Telegraph after watching Cranford. I surprised myself by really enjoying it....

(enjoyed watching it that is; I enjoyed writing it but expected to)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Girl Who Came In From the Cold

This week I have been rained on three times cycling into the office. There have been moments when my commitment to a green lifestyle (organic vegetables, no car, recycling paper, trying a bit to stay away from cheap clothing stores) has been severely questioned. London in November - was there ever a more depressing three word phrase.
In the meantime, I have been taken by two pieces in the Independent: first Steve Connor's piece on birth order . Birth order fascinates everyone; the truth is if you are the oldest of four (like me) then basically you are doomed. Conservative, conventional, neurotic and swotty - these are the adjectives that get bandied about. Not for the eldest the freethinking creativity, the lateral thinker, the sociable party goer that everyone wants. No, you're the person who decides to be an actuary at age 11 and spends the next 15 years in a library (apologies to all first born actuaries who are fun loving creatives freaks).
What's interesting about Connor's piece is that it concludes that in the end birth order doesn't really make any difference at all. Which means I could have spent the last 15 years being a freewheeling creative sort instead of being conditioned to think that the world will come to an end if I don't do my homework on time.
So that was one myth quashed. The other is that Jonathan Brown notes a new North/South divide. Northerners like dogs; southerners like cats. I like cats. So I've either lived away from the North for too long or was always a spiritual southerner. A southerner second born.....maybe it's time to enbrace a new life.
In the meantime, I'm watching closely the new DEC appeal for Bangladesh to see what kind of stories come out of it following my fly on the wall stint for the last one; reading Adrian Monck on Andrew Marr and for pleasure as always John Kelly whose voxford blog always cheers up a November day.....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tuesday morning life

I was very happy to read about Bonnie Brown's retirement - she's the Google masseuse who has become a millionaire because of share options she had with the company. I only wish that I had any shares at all. I was once young and foolish and thought that journalists should not own any shares in case you ever ended up writing about the company. Now I am just old and foolish and broke. But I still think it was probably a good precept.
However shares might have meant I did better on the Times work/life balance test but seriously who ARE these people who put 10% of their income away as savings. I presume that isn't for the tax man. I guess those who still tithe do, but anyone else?
Meanwhile I am still trying to recover from seeing Posh Spice in the Tesco advert - indeed all the Spice Girls. It just wrong.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

After The Wave

Since giving my lecture on Monday I have been felled by some kind of bug. I don't know if it is an aid agency taking revenge for my (slightly provocative) comments,or just slight exhaustion after a year's work crammed into 1.5 hours but I am just about coming round now...
I also have to polish up the finished version so that Nuffield can print it and also put it online. I feel rather a hypocrite having spent the night extolling new media that I a) havent done that yet and b) am still struggling to get the Mac to do links properly. Thanks to Adrian Monck, Richard Sambrook and Henrik Ornebring for the links...

Monday, November 05, 2007

The day dawns.....

Off to Nuffield to give my lecture. Finally. Yikes. In the meantime here is a potted version as written for Media Guardian